SAVANNAH, Ga. — Calvary Day’s prolific passing offense has grabbed the attention of high school football fans across the state — and with good reason as quarterback Michael Peterson has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards with 40 touchdown passes this year.
But opposing defenses need to consider the Cavalier running game as well. The tandem of junior Robert Heyward and senior Derek Kirkland has been piling up yards and putting points on the board — forcing opponents to respect a balanced offense.
The Cavaliers plan to put that offense on display when they kick off Friday at 2:30 p.m. against Aquinas for the GHSA Class A Private School championship at the Georgia Dome.
“With the spread we run, we’ve had a lot of one-back stuff lately, and Robert (Heyward) has been our guy back there,” Calvary Day coach Mark Stroud said. “He’s a relentless runner. He’s tough to tackle cause he’ll run right through people. He’s a physical back who has some speed, and he can also catch the ball.”
Heyward has reeled off five 100-yard rushing games in a row. He has 1,288 yards on the season, averaging 9.54 yards per carry, with nine rushing touchdowns. He has 23 catches for 465 yards with six receiving touchdowns.
“Our offensive line has been opening up a lot of holes for me,” said Heyward, who had a season-high 25 attempts for 124 yards and a touchdown in a semifinal overtime win over Eagle’s Landing Christian last week. “And our passing game helps out a lot because the defense is forced to spread out. I’ve improved at reading my blocks, and our receivers have done a great job with their downfield blocking.”
Kirkland has also been a productive offensive weapon with 606 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns to go along with 33 catches for 586 yards and nine more scores.
“Everything is opening up because of our passing game,” Kirkland said. “Defenses can’t stack it up at the line to stop the run.”
A solid offensive line has been a key as the Cavaliers have won 11 in a row. Brad Butler (LT), Jacob Mock (LG), Alex Herndon (C), Tripp Pearson (RG) and Michael Strong (RT) comprise a unit that has paved the way for a ground attack averaging 180 yards per game (the Cavs average 232 yards per contest through the air).
So would the big boys up front rather run the ball or pass?
“I’d rather run block because it gives you a chance to be more physical and offensive linemen always like that,” said Pearson, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior. “We’ve done well running the ball because we have a good blocking scheme with some great blockers on our line. And Robert (Heyward) and Derek (Kirkland) know how to run the ball.”
Last week, Heyward scored the go-ahead touchdown on a short run in overtime, and Dan Hatch’s extra point gave the Cavs a seven-point lead. Eagle’s Landing scored a touchdown on its first possession, then decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion. Nose tackle Andre Wilson made the tackle that ended the game and earned the Cavaliers their first trip to the Dome.
“We weren’t nervous in the huddle, everyone knew we had to make a stop,” Wilson said. “Now we’re all excited about getting a chance to play in our first state championship game, but we have to approach it like it’s just a regular game.”